“Really? Running on the wall? Did you have to go so far, Ely? I’m pretty sure that you could have caught up to him just fine without cornering him like that.”
The three of us were seated around a small, round table, with a veritable feast arranged in plates that dominated the center of the table. I had just finished describing the circumstances of our meeting to Rosalind – a process during which she forbade Elysium to speak. It seemed that my initial evaluation of their relationship was accurate – though Rosalind had kept mostly to herself and let Elysium lead the way when they were walking through the city, the relationship they had was one of equals. Neither considered herself subject to the other, and their friendship seemed to be one of mutual respect – a friendship attested to by the banter that was occurring next to me as I happily indulged in the meal set before me.
“No, he’s really fast, I might not have been able to keep up!”
“…You, the woman with superhuman speed, strength, reflexes and sensory capabilities, would have been outrun by a 14-year-old boy?”
“…Okay, so I got a little carried away. My bad.”
Technically, I was fifteen, but I let the mistake pass for the moment – I was far too engrossed in the beef steak on my plate to care. It was beef, actual beef! Not leftover beef, not the untasty bits, not cheap poultry being sold as beef. It was real, meaty, tender, proper beef! I had eaten something like that maybe twice in my entire life, and neither of those instances held a candle to the quality of the food I was receiving at that moment. It was an almost revelatory experience, the scales falling from my eyes, driving home the point that meat of such tenderness and juiciness existed. When they later told me that the beef I had eaten was in the middling range of quality, I could scarce believe my ears; to think that food which surpassed such perfection existed – surely any who ate of it would die from the exposure to such divinity!
Those were the thoughts of my young self, receiving his first proper, decent meal. I have since sampled various cuisines, many of them objectively superior to that first beef steak, but I have never been quite able to recapture the rapture I felt during that meal – I still remember my wonder as if it were yesterday. But unheeding of my revelatory experiences, the conversation between Elysium and Rosalind continued.
“Ely, you really have got to do something about your habit of getting carried away. It’s going to get you in trouble eventually.”
“Hey, I do not have such a habit.”
“That time from our first concert when you impaled a man’s thigh for requesting a pay raise would seem to disagree.”
“Or how about that time when you destroyed the reception desk at the inn after you found out that they had no rooms?”
“And that time when a snatch thief tried to rob us and you punched him through a wall?”
“There’s also that time when-”
“Okay! Okay, I get it. I get it, so please don’t say any more. I’ll try to control myself, so drop it, okay?”
Rosalind, who had begun counting off these somewhat terrifying yet admittedly amusing anecdotes on her right hand, grinned and placed that same hand on a dejected Elysium’s head, patting it slowly. Elysium’s face was bright red, as if she was embarrassed of having these instances of lost control recounted to me. I was thankful for it – her embarrassment made her feel a little more human.
When Elysium seemed to have recovered sufficiently enough for Rosalind to remove her hand, the conversation turned to me and my circumstances. This happened to coincide with my finishing off the last of my share of the food, so I was able to turn my full attention to the matter at hand. Both of them glanced at my empty plate, surprised – perhaps they hadn’t expected me to finish it so quickly. Elysium laughed and pushed her plate towards me, tempting me.
“I suppose you like the food, then?”
I reached out my hand tentatively toward the proffered plate, but hesitated before taking hold of it. I had already finished my share, and Elysium had yet to eat hers – if I were to accept this food now, I would be depriving her of her meal. Perhaps she noticed my hesitation, because she laughed again and gave me reassurance.
“Don’t worry about it, eat up. I’m not that hungry, anyway, and I’m just glad that you’re happy with this type of food. I was a little worried that you might demand for something better.”
“Better? This is the best I’ve ever tasted!”
“That’s a relief. Neither Ros nor I are particularly fond of luxurious foods, are we, Ros?”
“Eh, I wouldn’t say that I’m not fond of them – I love expensive food as much as the next person. But we’re more used to simpler fare, it’s true.”
Having no reason to refuse, I meekly took a small portion of Elysium’s food and placed it on my plate, before pushing the plate back towards her. This elicited another round of laughter from her.
“Leaving this much for me? A thoughtful young man, aren’t you?”
“Indeed. Good character, sharp wits, and a rare magic. You’ve come across an amazing find, Ely.”
“Right? He’ll need a little instruction, but he definitely has the potential for greatness.”
While the two women casually spoke compliments about me, I resumed my culinary crusade to empty my plate anew. Under ordinary circumstances, I might have blushed at having a pair of pretty women talk about me like that, but I was far too busy trying to savour every last bite.
“What will you do for lodging? Are you going to get another room?”
“Nah, unnecessary cost. He’ll sleep in my room.”
“Eh? Just the two of you?!”
“But… he’s a guy! Even if he’s young, a man and woman sharing a room is a bit… Actually, doesn’t him being young make it worse?”
“Hm? I don’t see what’s wrong; we’re just sharing a room. Men and women share rooms all the time.”
“In what context?!”
“Well, don’t worry too much about it. It’s not like we’re going to share a bed.”
“Eh? You expanded to a 2-person room?”
“Nah, that would have cost more. One of us can sleep on the floor, it’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure? I’m sure we can spend a bit more on a third room, or a room expansion…”
“We could, but it’s not necessary, really. We shouldn’t spend money just because we have it.”
Elysium looked at the clock on the wall. I followed her gaze and noted that it indicated that it was currently the 9th hour of the afternoon.
“It’s getting late. We should get to bed.”
She finished off the rest of her plate at an astonishing speed and stood up. That was the cue for all of us to stand. Rosalind saw us to the door and bent down slightly – she was a bit taller than me – to speak to me.
“Sleep well, Glint. If Ely bullies you just let me know and I’ll set her straight.”
She drew back up to her full height and matched Elysium’s exasparated gaze.
“Ros, drop it already.”
Rosalind giggled and hugged Elysium.
“Good night, Ely.”
“Night, Ros. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Elysium extracted herself from the hug and walked across the corridor, unlocking the door to our room. She beckoned to me, and I followed. Suddenly, Rosalind’s voice called out from behind us.
“Oh, wait for a bit. Glint!”
I turned around, a question evident in my manner. Rosalind giggled and took in a deep breath, than sang a single note in the most beautiful voice I had ever heard. As she sang, I felt a wave of… something wash over me, and the stains and dirt on my clothes vanished, as if they were as new as the day I had gotten them. As I watched, the dirt and grime on my arms disappeared, and I felt my hair combed through with that same something. I touched my fingers to it and, to my surprise, it felt like the excess of oil and dirt that had built up in countless weeks had disappeared without a trace. For the first time in a long time, I was clean. Rosalind waved good night and closed the door, leaving me gaping in wonder at what I had just witnessed.
“Ah, I forgot how surprising that could be. You’ll get used to it. Come along, now.”
Obeying Elysium’s instructions, I crossed the threshold into the room I was to sleep in. The room was, naturally, identical to the one I had just been in, but where the previous room had been covered in various articles of clothing and cosmetics, this one was sparse and bare. I glanced at a corner, where there were a pair of opened trunks – presumably, Elysium’s luggage.
“Make yourself at home.”
Elysium’s voice sounded from my left, causing me to instinctively turn in her direction – then immediately turn away, flustered, my fingers covering my eyes
“Hm? What’s the matter, Glint?”
“I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry!”
I had inadvertently seen her in the midst of changing, catching a glimpse of her completely naked. That was a shock; even when I’d shared rooms with girls in the past, they’d always made me stay outside the room whenever they had to change.
“Hm? Ah, I see. Don’t worry about it.”
“How can I not worry about that?!”
“It’s been a while since I’ve seen a reaction like that. Ahhhh, that’s refreshing.”
“Why am I the only one being embarrassed here?!”
“Uh, well, I’m used to it. I used to change together with the men in the field. Anyway, it’s safe to look now.”
I tentatively turned around, peeking through slits in my fingers, only taking my hands away when I confirmed that she was fully dressed. She had swapped out her butler-style clothes for a simpler combination of a tunic and a pair of shorts. She had untied her hair, setting it loose from its braid and letting it splay out behind her. She was beautiful. There was no other word for it. Flustered, I began scanning the room to find a good spot on the floor to sleep, settling on a small space next to the opened trunks, along the wall. I walked over to that spot and tested the floor – it was wooden and hard, but at least it was sheltered, and not rotten. Contented, I prepared to lie down, but was stopped by a hand on my shoulder.
“Sorry, but that’s my spot.”
I turned to find Elysium smiling at me.
“You’re sleeping over there.”
She pointed at the bed.
“Eh?! No, I can’t, I’m already relying on your hospitality, I can’t make you sleep on the floor- ah!”
While I was voicing futile objections, Elysium hoisted me up by the collar and brought me to the bed, setting me gently upon it.
“Don’t be so reserved. When’s the last time you slept on a bed?”
“It’s helpful for me too if you have a good rest, so just enjoy the bed, okay?”
I nodded and lay down on my side, feeling the softness of the bed beneath me, the pillow sinking in to accommodate my head. That softness was too much for me. As I closed my eyes, I felt tears begin to pool. I heard Elysium’s voice next to me, and felt a shift in the mattress as she sat down on it, next to me.
“What’s the matter, Glint? Why are you crying?”
“It’s just… this bed. This food. This whole situation. My clothes – being clean…. it’s not… I’ve never experienced such… warmth. And I’ve not done anything to deserve it. I’m so afraid that I’m going to wake up and realise that this was all… a dream.”
I felt a warm hand wipe the tears from my eyes. I felt a slight brush of a finger against my forehead – Elysium was patting my head.
“It’s not a dream. You’re one of us now. Welcome home.”